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PICTURE: ROSS MACKAY

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

‘‘You get served lemons, you might as well make lemonade’’.

They’re the words of Winter Games NZ boss Marty Toomey who’s exclusively revealed to Mountain Scene details of ‘The Obsidian’, the replacement event for the 2020 games, which will be New Zealand’s biggest snowsports event this year and will become a fixture of the normal programme in future.

Unlike other major events up and down NZ, which pulled the pin almost as soon as Covid-19 made its unwelcome entry to our shores, Toomey says WGNZ’s team decided to sit tight and think on their feet.

‘‘We’d done a bit of a strategic review at the end of last year which looked at some of the events we had on the programme and [we] said, ‘actually, let’s just shift ourselves a little bit’.’’

The end result’s a four-event snowsports competition, the likes of which hasn’t been done anywhere globally before.

Three co-ed teams, comprising seven of NZ’s most talented skiers and snowboarders per team, will be led by captains Janina Kuzma, Sam Smoothy and Jossi Wells across the four events — Freeride, which will be heli-accessed, a Park Jam and Aerial Attack, both at Cardrona Alpine Resort, and a backcountry ‘Shred Session’ where each team shreds up a local resort.

Wells says the event will showcase the country’s ‘‘diverse talent pool’’ in snowsport,
including X-Games, World Cup, Olympic and Freeride World tour competitors as well as back-country specialists.

‘‘To have the opportunity to bring all these athletes together … is what I see as a celebration of all that has been accomplished across the board.’’

Each team’s going to have its own film crew, which will capture and edit footage throughout the event — the edit of the Shred Session will be judged, but the rest of the content’s designed to go to broadcast partner Sky TV, and to the likes of Destination Queenstown to help with winter promotion, Toomey says.

There’s also an overall videography competition running alongside The Obsidian — each team will create a five-to-eight-minute compilation of their team’s journey, and those will be premiered in Queenstown and Wanaka at the end of August as a community event to support the local snow industry.

It’s all going down in the ‘‘weather window’’ between August 10 and 20.

‘‘Rather than saying it’s 10 days of full-on action, we want the best possible days to get out and do the big backcountry events, it demands perfect conditions,’’ Toomey says.

‘‘So whenever the weather is right we’ll pull the trigger on that event, and the other events work around it.’’

The athletes, he says, are frothing about the new-look event and played an integral part in its design.

‘‘We’ve had this built for athletes by athletes … we’ve tested with them early on whether it was of interest before we even went back to [major funder] NZ Major Events, so it’s definitely an athlete-focused event which is, again, another really cool element of it.

‘‘They all had the end of the northern hemisphere snow season cut short, and many of them were in really good form, so that’s pretty gutting.

‘‘Then they thought, given the border closures, nothing would be able to happen in NZ so, all of a sudden to be presented with something that’s really cool and competitive and will challenge them, they’re just fizzing.’’

Toomey says the quality of the entirely NZ competitor base — yet to be fully revealed — is exceptional.

‘‘We’ve got our future Olympians, we’ve got our Olympic medallists, we’ve got our past Olympians, our Freeride World Tour athletes, those just coming on the tour next year, those who have won on the tour historically — you put them all together, you’ve got an incredible mix, which in itself will be really interesting to see how the teams work.’’

But, he says, there’ll be a few ‘‘tricks up the sleeve’’, including ‘joker’ cards which teams can play to double their points.

‘‘It’s not going to stop.

‘‘You’re not going to know until the very end what’s happened.’’

The WGNZ team’s keen to run it as an international challenge as part of the 2021 traditional games where teams from each country battle ‘‘looking for the King and Queen of the mountain’’.

Toomey says he’s thrilled the event’s come together in such a short time — they only started seriously looking at it in March — and is grateful to NZ Major Events, in particular, for backing it.

‘‘[It] has been a significant funding partner for the event for quite a while, so a lot of this going forward is contingent on whether NZ Major Events saw the benefit, given we weren’t going to be able to have the international athletes.

‘‘They actually bought into it, so that was the critical piece that allowed us to say, ‘yes, we can make this work’.

‘‘There’s no risk of the event not taking place.’’
ed@scene.co.nz